I love that there are gi companies out there trying to be innovative. I first heard of making gis out of hemp about two years ago. Unfortunately, that company never took off, so I was never able to buy one. Bummer!
But then I heard about Chris Odell's company Datsusara MMA which markets gear, gis, bags, and clothing made of hemp. Hemp fibers are longer, up to four times stronger, more absorbent and more mildew-resistant than cotton. It's environmentally friendlier to grow than cotton, requiring no pesticides and producing more fiber per land area. Hemp fabric is also naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial-- so I was very excited to give it a try. Chris generously sent me one of their Hemp Combat Gis for this review and I have been wearing the HECK out of this thing ever since.
Chris sent me the natural color gi, but they also come in black. The natural color is like HCK's unbleached-- a creamy oatmeal color, with a nice, subtle flower/ sunburst emblem embroidered in black on the left shoulder and in between the shoulder blades on the jacket. (Nothing on the pants but a small label you'll see in a later picture.)
The Datsusara website describes the gi thus:
• Made of durable 100% hemp
• Brazilian Jiu Jitsu style weave and cut
• Jacket made of a 17oz (580gsm) long fiber weave (very breathable)
• Pants made of 11oz (370gsm) long fiber canvas
• Reinforced stitching for strength and durability
• Machine washable: Due to the properties of the hemp blend the gi actually gets softer and more comfortable with each wash while retaining it's strength, it wears in rather than wearing out
• Featuring the Japanese Mon (crest) representing hemp embroidered on the left arm and upper center back
See size chart (allow for up to 5% shrinkage with a hot water wash)
I received the gi at the end of February. Right off the bat, I noticed they include two pants drawstrings-- one of fabric, one of cord, like a thin rope but smoothly-woven or twisted. I left the fabric one in the drawstring pocket and it seems like it might be tough to switch out, as the drawstring pocket is narrow, so I might have to unknot the ends of the cord and use a wire coat hanger to make the switch. However, the fabric drawstring hasn't given me any problems. There are only two loops for the drawstring on the front of the pants, which is not my preference. Here's the only labeling or "bling" of any kind on the pants-- a label sewn on the front of the left hip.
I've worn this gi over sixty times, in 3 hour classes, and machine washed it each time. I have tried airdrying it 3 times and the rest of the time I machine dry on normal temperature. Here's my measurements (A1 size) for your shrinkage comparisons, from out of the box and then after one hot wash and hot dry:
Jacket center of collar to end of sleeve: 27.5" 25.25"
sleeve cuff width: 7" 6.25"
back collar to bottom hem: 24" 23"
chest width, side seam to side seam: 22" 21.5"
waist across back, side seam to side seam: 20" 19"
rise, drawstring to crotch seam: 11.5" 10.5"
leg length: 37" 35"
pants cuff width: 9" 8.5"
Since then I haven't measured each time, but I have not noticed any additional shrinkage. The gi fits very well-- it's competition legal, but not excessively flappy anywhere. I do not believe this to be a "judo" cut, which was a comment from the early test versions (2009-2010) of this gi. The drawstring itself is definitely on the short side, but I don't like to tie mine in bows, which is good as this is clearly too short for bows. I tie a square knot which doesn't come undone and is easy to untie when wet.
I notice that not only is the drawstring "pocket" or channel narrow, but the side slit on each hip, separating front from back, is also very short (about 1.25") which is nice for us ladies if we don't want more underwear showing through the side gap than absolutely necessary. (I don't usually wear compression shorts because it's too damn hot.)
Also, a nice touch: the front half of the pants is lower than the back!
Therefore, more room for junk in the trunk, without the front waistband coming up to your ribcage.
I was very impressed with the fabric itself; a little less impressed with the construction. Everything is double seamed or triple seamed.
First, the fabric does indeed wear in very nicely-- it feels like heavy linen. It's soft and fluid, it feels great in hot weather (today's high is 99) and even when you air dry it, it doesn't get stiff like other gis will. (It takes about the same amount of time to airdry as a regular gi.)
Second, I only noticed one "error" in the construction-- on one of the seams on the inner thigh, I found a loose thread.
It's a length of seam about 1" long and the thread just wasn't caught properly by the bobbin thread, so it's a loose loop as opposed to a cut thread hanging out. It's the center seam of two lines of stitching, so it doesn't affect the durability or integrity of the seam itself, but it does invite you to stick your finger in it and attempt to break it because you're too lazy to get a pair of scissors. I think the thread must be hemp as well, because that sucker is STRONG! I have tried and tried to break it (even used my car key once) and it refused. So I leave it alone now. I did notice a few other loose threads in the interior of the gi, but haven't had issues with splitting, tearing, or durability in general. And I have worn the cr*p out of this thing in an attempt to really put it through the wringer.
Third, the fabric feels awesome if you're wearing the gi, but it has garnered some complaints from training partners especially from my jacket smearing across their face in top side or north-south. They say it's rough and annoying. Waaahhh, too bad. I have noticed that the pants over my knees/thighs feel rough-- like the fabric pills a little? it does get a bit sandpapery, I suppose, but I haven't noticed any other signs of wear or abrasion. Here's the front of the thigh (the fabric is double layered from the ankle hem all the way up to the upper thigh.)
Here's the cuff, triple-stitched and French hemmed.
The interior of the armpit and the front breast seaming is thoroughly reinforced. There is no seam on the back of the jacket.
Here's the inside of the slit on the sides of the jacket. I can't see this ripping. You can see two loose threads in the picture at the bottom.. again, didn't seem to affect the life of the jacket. Loose threads appear to be a common issue for these gis, as you'll see in Slideyfoot's review (link below.)
The collars are soft but quite thick. I don't feel a rubber/foam core like many gis, and so it is a little easier to grab than a new Atama, but not much easier than a worn-in Gameness, and it fills up your hand a little faster because of the thickness. The benefit of the fluid fabric and soft collar is immediately apparent if you play a wrapping game. For thickness comparison, from left to right-- the Atama Mundial #9, a Koral (not the MKM or the Lightweight one, just ordinary Koral), and then the Datsusara on the right.
Fifth, I tried to make the gi stink, to test this antimicrobial thing. I had three legendarily stinky tshirts (the ones where you wore them grappling with a stinky guy, then let sit in your trunk during the hot day, and forgot to wash promptly when you got home, and so even when washed, they have a stink?) So I wore one to class, got it all wet and sweaty, with this gi. Put the gi and tshirt in the trunk and parked on the roof of the parking garage so it was in the hot sun all day. Took it home and left it balled up on the laundry floor for 24 hours. (It was still wet and even WARM in the middle the next night.) Washed it in ordinary laundry soap and voila-- the tshirt smelled still, but the gi was fine! I know, not very scientific, but it's the best I could do without a microscope. (hint hint Seymour....) So I pitched the stinky tshirts, and kept the gi in the rotation.
Over time, I have noticed that the color is a little less "warm" in tone and has become a tad greyer. I wouldn't say this is a "white" that would be IBJJF-legal, either when brand new or when well-worn like mine.
Light, fluid, strong. Feels like pajamas! Soooooo comfortable. Fits well, never feels stiff or cardboardy. Another guy at my academy bought this gi after I started wearing it, and he likes his too. (Unfortunately he also got the unbleached, so I can't tell much about how well the black stays black-- but the instructions suggest a vinegar wash.)
It retails for $140 and I think it is worth it. However, some say the price will go up.
Here's a review and more photos on Sherdog.
And here's a link to Slideyfoot's review.